Posted: September 19th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: anxiety, believe in Jesus, confusion, Difficulties, fear, God is good, God's word, pain, pain and suffering, worry | No Comments »
It seems that way, doesn’t it?
Racial tensions are high.
Radical Islamic terrorists are killing innocent people in more and more countries.
Political divisions in the United States run deep.
The federal government continues to run up debt with no end in sight.
Behaviors that used to be wrong are now seen as right and a dissenting opinion isn’t welcomed.
The marriage rate is at an all-time low.
The Ebola virus is spreading.
The United States has lost control of its southern border.
Christian values, once seen as good and noble, are now viewed as intolerant and unacceptable.
It’s never been this bad. Or has it?
I imagine first century Christians who were being persecuted by the Roman Empire felt it was pretty bad. And those who suffered through the plague during the 1300′s when millions of people died probably felt it was as bad as it had ever been. The Great Depression seemed like the worst it had ever been. And World War I. And World War II. And the list could go on.
In Matthew 10, Jesus is giving His disciples instructions before He sends them out to do ministry. Here’s part of what He told them:
16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.“ 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 22 And all nations will hate you because you are my followers.” But everyone who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.
24 “Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. 25 Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons,” the members of my household will be called by even worse names!
26 “But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 27 What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!
28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.“ 29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
32 “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
35 ‘I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 Your enemies will be right in your own household!’“
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
40 “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. 41 If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs. 42 And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”
I’m pretty sure if I’d just been given those instructions, I’d be thinking it was as bad as it’s ever been. We’re going to be arrested? Flogged? We’re going to stand trial? Family members will betray each other?
What Jesus said to His disciples two thousand years ago is just as applicable today…
- “Don’t be afraid.” He says it three times.
- If we love anyone, including family members or our own lives, more than Him, then we’re not worthy of Him.
- If we acknowledge Him on earth, He’ll acknowledge us before the Father.
- If we give up our life for Him, we’ll find it.
Is the world in worse shape than it’s ever been? I have no idea. And it’s really not the point.
Posted: September 10th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: Difficulties, fear, God's character, God's word, terrorism, war, Young Life | 2 Comments »
Thirteen years ago today, I flew to Denver with some colleagues for a meeting. I went for a run the next morning. When I got back to the hotel, I learned the first of the two World Trade Center buildings had been attacked. I went back to my room, turned the television on and watched as the second tower was attacked.
I attended our scheduled meeting, but was very distracted. It wasn’t long before we learned all air traffic had been grounded, so we wouldn’t be flying home that day. We decided to keep our rental car and began the drive back to Arkansas on the afternoon of 9-11.
I realized that day that life had changed. We would now be a country at war. Having grown up in New Jersey and seen the New York city skyline countless times, the attack on our country felt personal to me. I also knew my children would grow up during war time.
Today, my oldest daughter is married to a Marine. He has fought in Afghanistan. My second daughter’s husband is in the Army. He has also fought in Afghanistan. My son graduated from high school this year and enlisted in the Navy. After basic training, he will try to qualify for a role in a Navy Special Warfare unit.
As we’ve seen in recent days, the war against terrorism goes beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. The Islamic State and other Muslim terrorist groups are on the march in numerous countries. They see Jews and Christians as enemies to be destroyed, not other faiths to live in peace with.
By the way, I do not believe all Muslims are evil or terrorists. I had lunch last week with a friend of mine who is a Muslim. My family has been to his home for dinner. And a number of years ago, our family had a Muslim man living with us.
There is, however, a radical element of Islam that is bent on destroying the nation of Israel, the United States and other western countries. Because they cannot be negotiated with, I believe they must be defeated. And that means war. When the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, God instructed them to kill the inhabitants of the land. These were people who had turned from God, hardened their hearts against Him and were worshiping false gods and idols. It was so bad they even sacrificed to these gods by burning their own children.
God had given the inhabitants of the land of Canaan hundreds of years to change their ways, but they continued in their sinful ways. And so God used the nation of Israel to destroy them.
Terrorism is not new. The father of terrorism has been at it for a very long time. He is also the father of lies. In John 8, Jesus said:
Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.
In the book of Revelation, John wrote about powerful, pain-producing locusts that are released during the end times: Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer.
The battles we see playing out on earth are the manifestations of the battles also being fought in the unseen spiritual realm. Satan–the liar, the murderer, the destroyer–seeks to “steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) In the same verse, Jesus said He came to give us “a rich and satisfying life.”
My other daughter just graduated from college and is moving to Germany to serve with the ministry of Young Life. She will introduce German college students to the One who offers that rich and satisfying life.
You and I, whether we like it or not, are in a war. As I type these words, my son is in the other room watching President Obama’s speech on dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS). I wish it wasn’t necessary for my son and sons-in-law to fight. But we’re in a war and I’m very proud of them for serving our nation and for ultimately fighting to push back the spiritual darkness on earth. I’m proud of my two married daughters who make great sacrifices being married to men in the military. I’m equally proud of my daughter who will leave the comfort of home and move to another nation for eight years because God has “…rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.”
Posted: September 5th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believing God, confusion, Difficulties, discouragement, faith, fear, God's character, God's love, God's word, pain and suffering, seeking God, trials | 1 Comment »
Don’t you love it when someone exceeds your expectations? It could be your spouse who prepares your favorite meal while you relax. Or a server in a restaurant who anticipates your needs and meets them. It could be an online retailer who ships your order sooner than you expected.
On the other hand, it can be very frustrating and disappointing when we have expectations that go unmet. Even if our expectations were unrealistic or never even expressed, we can still feel disappointed.
When I meet with couples to do their premarital counseling, we talk about expectations they have for marriage. The more they understand their own expectations and their spouse’s the better off they’ll be. Unmet or unrealistic expectations are a relationship-killer.
That’s why it’s critical to understand our expectations of God and whether or not they’re realistic.
You’re probably familiar with the story in Genesis 6 where God sees the extent of human wickedness and decides to destroy every living thing on the earth in a flood. Only Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives will be spared along with pairs of animals. We don’t know exactly how long it took Noah to build the ark, but it’s safe to say it probably took decades.
In Genesis 7, the flood comes and completely covers the earth for five months. At this point, mankind has been wiped out. Only those in the ark survive.
Do you think Noah looked outside after those five months and said something like, “Okay God, mission accomplished. Take away the water now.”
I would have. I would have figured I’d done everything God asked, everyone was now dead, I’d been at this a long time and so it was time for the water to go.
But Genesis 8:1 says, “He sent a wind to blow across the earth, and the floodwaters began to recede.” Verse 3 tells us, “…the floodwaters gradually receded from the earth.”
God sent a wind? The floodwaters gradually receded? Really? Gradually?
If you read all of Genesis 8, you’ll see that Noah, his family and the animals were on the ark for a total of about a year. A year on a boat. With your family. And a lot of stinky animals. Noah was a righteous man, so maybe that means his expectations were realistic, but being under those conditions for a year would be really, really tough.
Without realistic expectations, I can see how Noah would have gotten very angry. I can understand it, because of how I would have felt. I would have reasoned that if God was powerful enough to cover the earth with water, then He could just easily make it all go away. I have the tendency to do that with problems that are much smaller than a worldwide flood.
Isn’t that how we want God to deal with our problems though? Don’t we want Him to just make them go away?
That’s not how He seems to work though. At least not in my life. More often than not, God works gradually. My problems or trials or weaknesses don’t just disappear overnight, they gradually recede as I trust Him and walk with Him. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
If you find yourself feeling angry or disappointed with God, check your expectations. Just because He’s all-powerful and loving, it doesn’t mean He’s going to snap His fingers and fix your problem. What I see is that God is more interested in helping me walk through problems rather than rescuing me from them.
There are days when God does move dramatically. Days when He shows up in some big way in our lives. And I love those days. But today is more likely to be a “gradually recede” day. And that will require me to have realistic expectations and walk with Him by faith.
Posted: August 26th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: believe in Jesus, believing God, confusion, delight yourself in the Lord, Difficulties, discouragement, faith, forgiveness, God's word, Holy Spirit, seeking God | No Comments »
If you’re experiencing frustration as you try to live the Christian life, it may be due to a conflict between your nature and your behavior.
In the matrix I sketched above, you’ll see that the person living in the lower left quadrant is experiencing harmony between their nature and their behavior. Their nature is sinful and generally speaking, their behavior is also. It doesn’t mean they aren’t happy at times or even much of the time. It simply means they are living consistently with their nature. Of course, ultimately they will feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied, because we were designed to live in relationship with God, and this person isn’t.
The person in the upper right quadrant is also living in harmony with their identity. This person has placed their faith in Christ, experienced forgiveness for their sin and has been given a new nature. They are relying on God for the power and wisdom to live according to their new nature. It doesn’t mean they’ve become perfect or never sin. It does mean they are in a process of becoming more like Christ and experiencing the life God intended.
The person in the lower right quadrant may be trying to live like they have a new nature. They may think they’ve placed their faith in Christ, but haven’t. They may think their own goodness or morality will please God. Ultimately though, they will become frustrated because their nature or true identity does not allow them to live the life God desires for them.
The person in the upper left quadrant is also frustrated. This person has trusted Christ and received forgiveness, but has forgotten or never understood their new nature. They have either reverted to living as they used to or have continued to live according to their sinful nature. They are looking to get their legitimate physical, emotional and spiritual needs met in ways that don’t bring fulfillment or please God.
Let me encourage you to read the passages I’ve shown in the matrix.
Which quadrant best describes you?
Obviously, we all want to experience the upper right one, where we experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If that’s not you, it can be. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it will be easy though. It’s a battle.
Posted: July 19th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Truth | Tags: believe in Jesus, Christ's return, God's will, God's word, seeking God | 1 Comment »
If you could get a glimpse of your life five years from today, would you want to see it?
Are you sure?
If halfway through my senior year of high school I’d been given a glimpse of my life five years later, I wouldn’t have believed it. My life looked nothing like I expected it would.
For some of us, our lives will be better than we imagine in five years. For others, five years from now may mean a battle with cancer or unemployment. So would you want to know? I don’t think I would.
God isn’t really in the habit of telling most of us what’s going to happen in the future, but in Matthew 24, Jesus actually does tell His disciples what the future holds. He tells them He’s going to return to earth one day. And when He returns, some people will be rewarded and some will be punished. He never reveals exactly when it will be, but He gives signs to look for.
Jesus also says that when He returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day…
“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 24:36-39)
On the day Jesus returns, people will be going about their normal lives. Just like they were in the days of Noah. And we won’t even realize what’s about to happen.
Does the world have a way of making you numb to the reality of Christ’s return? It does to me.
I’m not expecting Jesus to come back today. Are you? As I type this, it’s a beautiful summer day in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s mostly sunny and 78 degrees. I’m sure there are lots of people working in their yards, taking walks, enjoying time on the lake, playing golf, etc. They’re going about their normal lives.
I’ll bet no one is thinking Jesus could come back today.
But He could.
Are you ready?
Do you know who will be rewarded and who will be punished? Do you know on what basis Jesus will decide? Do you know what He expects of you until He returns?
If not, then you’re not ready.
Posted: May 14th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Truth | Tags: anxiety, believing God, Difficulties, fear, God's word, Jesus, worry | 2 Comments »
Worry: to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts. To give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.
To torment oneself. To dwell on difficulty or troubles.
Do you do that? Do you worry? I hate to admit it, but I do. It’s a serious character flaw. It’s a great weakness and sin for me.
My mother used to worry a lot. When I was young and thought I knew everything, I once said to her, “Just don’t worry.” If she was still alive, I’d apologize. Telling someone to just stop worrying isn’t helpful. It’s like telling someone to stop feeling sad. Or stop feeling jealous.
I’ve said it before, but you can’t just change your feelings. You have to change your thoughts.
Several days ago, I dropped my wife off at the airport early in the morning. As I was leaving airport, there was a bird flying down the road in front of me at eye level. I was following the bird like it was a car in front of me. Finally, it changed direction and flew out of sight. As I continued home, I became aware of more and more birds. They’d fly across the road right in front of me. They were next to the road and would take off just as I passed them. They seemed to be everywhere I looked.
Then it hit me. “Look at the birds.”
In Matthew 6:26-27, Jesus says:
“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”
Several verses later, speaking again about our material needs, Jesus says:
“These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:32-33)
When I torment myself with disturbing thoughts or dwell on difficulty or troubles, I’m acting just like someone that doesn’t even know Jesus. I’m completely forgetting that my heavenly Father knows all my needs. In fact, He knows them better than I do.
Jesus has a solution. It’s to seek the Kingdom of God above all else and obey him (live righteously). Then the Father will give us what we need.
What about you? Are you worried about getting your needs met?
“Look at the birds.” And remember what God has promised. Choose to seek Him and obey Him. He will come through for you.
Posted: April 30th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, anxiety, believe in Jesus, believing God, Difficulties, discouragement, faith, fear, God's word, pain and suffering, prayer, seeking God, trials, worry | 6 Comments »
Earlier today, I was talking with a friend who had some skin cancer removed this week. He has to wait nine more days for the pathology report to learn whether the cancer cells were contained or if they’ve possibly spread to his lymph nodes. I commented about how hard it would be to wait for nine more days. His response was, “I don’t care. God is sovereign.”
What my friend is really saying is, “I don’t have to care, because I know God does and He’s the one who’s in control.”
His thought or belief is: God cares about him and is in control of whatever happens.
The feeling that results is: peace.
Thoughts produce feelings.
If I had three pieces of information about someone, I think I’d be able to accurately tell you how they were feeling…whether they were: Happy? Hopeful? Anxious? Worried? Peaceful? Stressed? Calm? Fearful? Angry? Discouraged? Loved?
Here’s what I’d need to know:
1. What do they read?
2. Who or what do they listen to?
3. Who or what do they look at or watch?
Given that information, I’d know how someone was feeling. Why?
Because if I know what they’re filling their mind with, then I’ll have a good idea what they’re thinking. And if I know what they’re thinking, then I know how they’re feeling, because again, thoughts produce feelings.
How do you feel today?
If it’s something negative like fear, worry or anxiety, then the solution is to change your thoughts. And of course that’s much easier said than done. My friend didn’t just wake up this morning and start believing God was sovereign. I guarantee that’s a belief he has cultivated for many years.
What thoughts have you been cultivating for many years? Are they true? Are you believing the truth about God? Yourself? Life? Or have you mostly filled your mind with ideas and principles from the world system?
Your feelings will let you know.
In Philippians 4:4-9, Paul writes…
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Regardless of what you’re going through–peace can be yours. You can present your requests to Him and His peace will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. And you can choose to think about the things that are true and to put them into practice and the God of peace will be with you.
I’m not suggesting this is easy. It’s a battle. A moment by moment battle. And it’s fought in the mind.
Anything good is worth fighting for, right?
Take an inventory of your thoughts today. Where are they coming from? If you’re feeling anxious or fearful–stop for a moment and trace your thoughts back. What thought led to that feeling? What truth needs to replace the wrong thought? We have to learn to do this because…
Thoughts produce feelings.
Posted: February 24th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: believe in Jesus, believing God, delight yourself in the Lord, Difficulties, discouragement, forgiveness, God's love, God's will, God's word, grace, Holy Spirit, Jesus, marriage, money, Relationships, seeking God, sex, zombie | 2 Comments »
Let’s be honest. How would you describe your Christian life?
Would you describe it as frustrating or fulfilling? Are you most often discouraged and defeated or joyful and hopeful? Do you feel like God is more disappointed or delighted in you?
If the Christian life hasn’t been working so well, take a moment and read the following three verses…
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Kind of depressing, isn’t it? (I promise this will get better.)
Here are some of the key words:
- ruler of the kingdom of the air (referring to Satan)
- gratifying…our flesh
- deserving of wrath
So who is Paul describing here?
You. Me. All of us.
Our bodies were alive, but we were dead. Like zombies.
We were living according to the ways of the world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air. And 1 John 5:19 tells us “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Satan is the one pulling the strings behind the world’s systems and values, so when we live according to the world’s principles, we’re living according to his principles.
And because we had no spiritual life in us, we naturally gratified the desires of the flesh and followed its desires and thoughts. We didn’t have anything else.
Again, kind of depressing. (It’s about to get better though.)
I don’t know about you, but before I placed my faith in Christ, I didn’t know any better. Living according to the world’s principles and gratifying my flesh was all I knew. I was concerned with making life work according to the only principles I knew (the world’s) and doing whatever I could to gratify the flesh.
Then something happened.
I met Jesus when I got to college. The God who’d previously been irrelevant, changed my life. Here’s how Paul describes it…
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
But. The whole passage hinges on that one word. But.
“But because of his great love for us…”
Rather than describing the wrath we deserved, the rest of the passage tells us what he did for us, how he did it, why he did it and what we have to look forward to. All because of His great love for us. It’s worth reading it again. And again. And again. Until it sinks in.
If it doesn’t sink in, then we naturally default back to living the way Paul describes in the first three verses. That’s when life gets frustrating. Here’s why…
Before we knew Christ, we only knew one way to do life–the world’s way. And so we followed the thoughts and desires of the flesh and did the best we could to get our needs met. Things didn’t always go our way, but there were no thoughts of an entirely different way of life. There was also no internal conflict. We didn’t have the flesh pulling us one way and the Spirit pulling us the other way. We only had the flesh.
But now when we choose to do life the old way, we have the pull and conviction of the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of the new life. The better life. The Christ life. He will not let us feel good about the old way of life.
When we’ve placed our faith in Jesus and then choose (intentionally or not) to live according to the ways of the world and we follow the thoughts and desires of the flesh, we don’t ever experience true life. What we get is a zombie-like Christian life. It’s like we’re alive, but not really. We’re not dead any more, but what we are sure isn’t pretty.
Are there areas of your life (work, money, food, sex, a relationship, etc.) you’re continuing to live according to the ways of the world? Has gratifying the flesh taken priority over pleasing God?
Give Him control. Seek Him through His word to discover His ways of handling those areas of your life.
It’s time to move from undead to fully alive.
Posted: February 12th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, believe, believe in Jesus, believing God, confusion, Difficulties, discouragement, faith, God is good, God's character, God's glory, God's love, God's will, God's word, Jesus, trials | 2 Comments »
Do you ever wonder why God does some of the things He does? Or doesn’t do other things?
Do you ever ask, “Why God?” or “God, where are You?”
Let’s be honest, we don’t have God figured out. And never will. In fact, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This is His universe. It’s His story. He’s under no obligation to explain Himself to us.
Sometimes that can make life painful or confusing, especially when our prayers go unanswered. We pray for things that mean a lot to us, but nothing happens. At least not anything we can see. It can feel like God isn’t listening or if He is listening that He doesn’t care.
In John 11, I believe God pulls back the curtain and lets us see what He’s up to during those times when life seems to be falling apart and He doesn’t seem to be showing up.
Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, is sick. So naturally, his sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” That’s a really interesting way to talk about someone. “The one you love.” Obviously, there’s a special friendship there.
Naturally, the sisters, just as you and I would, expect Jesus to come and heal their brother. That’s not what Jesus does though. Instead, He pulls back the curtain for us and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm. He lets us see He’s up to something far bigger than just healing someone. In verse 4, Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s son may be glorified through it.”
Jesus pulls back the curtain with the words “so that.” What’s really going on here? The sickness will not end in death “so that God’s son may be glorified through it.” With that being the primary mission, what happens next in verses 5 and 6 makes sense…
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…”
The whole story hinges on the word, “So.” Lazarus is sick. He’s loved by Jesus. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are loved by Jesus. “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, Jesus immediately departed for Bethany.”
No, that’s not what happens. Jesus doesn’t immediately depart. He waits. For two days.
Two days may not seem like very long, but it is when someone you love is dying before your eyes. It’s a long time when you’re crying out for God’s help, but no answer appears. Most likely, you’ve prayed for something for much longer than two days. Maybe it’s been two months. Or two years. Or ten.
When the answer we want doesn’t come or doesn’t come quickly, it’s easy to lose heart, isn’t it? It’s easy to give up. Sometimes we begin to question God’s love and goodness. I’ve done that. I’ve doubted Him. And I’ve gotten angry. I’ve allowed disappointment with life to become disappointment with God.
But behind the circumstances you and I are facing, there’s always something bigger going on. The big story is God’s glory. When God shows up by either changing our circumstances or giving us the peace and endurance to keep going…He is glorified. Those around us get to see God at work.
The story of Lazarus continues though and we get to see the curtain pulled back again.
When Jesus gets ready to leave for Bethany, He tells His disciples, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
He does it again. He pulls back the curtain and lets us see what’s really going on. He says He’s glad He wasn’t there to heal Lazarus, so that they would believe.
When you and I face painful or confusing circumstances, when life throws more at us than we think we can handle, let’s remember God is at work growing our faith. He wants us to see Him at work so our capacity to trust Him grows.
God sees your situation. He knows the desire of your heart. He’s aware of the unmet need. He’s not unconcerned. He loves you deeply. So…maybe He hasn’t answered your prayer yet…or in the way you wanted Him to, so that He will be glorified and so that you will believe. Will God always answer the way we want? No, but when He doesn’t, we still have the promise of His peace.
Whatever you’re facing today…remember to pull back the curtain and take a peek at what God is up to.
Posted: January 26th, 2014 | Author: Gregg Stutts | Filed under: Difficulties, Relationships, Truth | Tags: answers to prayer, anxiety, believe in Jesus, believing God, delight yourself in the Lord, Difficulties, faith, fear, God's character, God's love, God's will, God's word, Holy Spirit, seeking God | 1 Comment »
Not everything is as it appears. In fact, nothing is as it appears.
After Jesus delivers His first public sermon, He comes down off the mountain and a man with leprosy approaches him and kneels before Him and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Immediately the man was cured.
Soon after, Jesus is approached by a centurion whose servant was paralyzed and suffering greatly. Jesus asks the man, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion tells Jesus he doesn’t deserve to have him come to his home, but if he will just say the word, his servant will be healed. Matthew tells us that Jesus was amazed by the man’s faith. So Jesus says, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”
After this encounter, Jesus goes to Peter’s house where he heals many people and casts demons out of others. When he sees the crowd around him, he gives orders to the disciples to cross over to the other side of the lake.
During the crossing, a furious storm suddenly comes up on the lake. The storm is so bad the disciples are afraid for their lives. Meanwhile, Jesus is sleeping. Can you picture it? Jesus has been in high demand. He’s healed many people. He’s been casting out demons. He’s tired. And despite a furious storm, he’s taking a nap.
Apparently, the disciples have not put two and two together. In the midst of the storm, they’ve forgotten who they’re with and what they’ve seen. They’ve forgotten how Jesus healed the man with leprosy. They’ve forgotten how Jesus commended the centurion for his faith. They’ve forgotten all the people Jesus healed right before they got into the boat.
All they can see is what’s right in front of them. They see wind whipping through their sails. They see the waves coming over the side of the boat. They see they’re only minutes from drowning.
What they’re not seeing is the truth. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” The truth was that they were not going to drown. The truth was that they were going to safely cross over to the other side of the lake. Why? Because Truth himself was in the boat with them.
The disciples were only seeing with their physical eyes. And that will always lead to worry, anxiety, fear and even panic.
You and I simultaneously live in two realms. We live in the material, physical realm with car problems, health issues, relationship troubles, bills to pay and furious storms. But we also live in a spiritual realm. In Ephesians, Paul calls it the “heavenly realms.” And living in the heavenly realms requires we see with the eyes of our heart. Paul prays, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…”
If we are going to successfully navigate the storms of life, we must learn to see with the eyes of our heart. We will need the wisdom and revelation that comes from God’s Spirit. As Paul did, we will need to pray the eyes of our heart are enlightened. Why? Because our default mode is to only process life through our five senses and our common sense.
Walking by faith and seeing with the eyes of our heart isn’t natural. It’s supernatural. It requires we live in dependence on God’s Spirit and learn to listen to Him as we spend time in His word. It’s remembering every situation, every relationship, every problem you face…everyday single day…is simultaneously occurring in two realms.
Nothing is as it appears.
The truest thing about you and your life is what God says, not what you say.
The story, your story is rarely over when you think it’s over.
You’ll realize that only as you choose to see with the eyes of your heart.